Work exhibited: Untitled new work.
The installation and display of a sculpture by Bruce McLean is a rare event. It is not simply that he is better known as a performance artist and painter, it is also because his approach to exhibiting his work has been characteristically unpredictable, systematically unorthodox, deliberately contrary. His 1972 retrospective at the Tate Gallery lasted for only one day, while his 'Process Progress Projects Archive' show at the Chelsea Space last year involved the replacement of nearly all the exhibits on a weekly basis.
McLean has done more than perhaps any other British artist since the 1960s to keep sculpture both conceptually and literally mobile. Pose Works for Plinths (1971) struck a tone that is very characteristic of his subsequent work in its multidirectional satire, its mixing of media, and its critical reflections on the role and purpose of art.
At a time when sculptors like Caro were eliminating the plinth, McLean brought it back in order to deliver the coup de grace by emphasising its incitement to stagecraft—its absurd theatricality. Using three plinths of different sizes and heights, McLean draped and propped his own body over and against them in a series of contortions, and then photographed the results.
The sculpture seemed to be displaced by McLean’s antics, or lost between performance and archive, or impossibly stretched across a continuum of different activities. In the end, McLean was proposing an understanding of sculpture as necessarily in dialogue with its own conditions of production and reception, as a critical intervention in a procedure that took itself too seriously while neglecting to think about itself seriously enough.
More recently, the New Live Talking Sculpture event at the Bernard Jacobson Gallery in 2009 utilised the artist’s own body to both facilitate and frustrate the verbal commentary that issued from three sources: from the performer’s live communications in the gallery, from the words painted onto individual wooden floorboards that were shuffled and rearranged throughout the event, and from the recording of a similar performance that was projected onto the backdrop of the live event.
The painted slogans recalled the vocabulary of political pledges and protests, while McLean’s calculated inability to control the floorboards or to make coherent his deliberately offhand broadcast on behalf of the ‘Conceptual Party’, together with his fluctuating acts of collaboration and competition with his projected alter ego, both illustrated the reductio ad absurdum of the kinds of political discourse engendered by the parliamentary system, and the potential for art to serve as a forum for the reconceptualising of political vision, for the assimilation of politics into the workings of the imagination.
We do not know what form McLean’s new sculptural project will take, but on the basis of his past record, we expect a large measure of the unexpected.